I didn’t mean to kill myself. Or maybe I did. But it has to count for something that I walked myself down to the local hospital just before 5 a.m. and asked to voluntarily commit myself.

I was lucky. Despite vomiting blood, I had no major internal organ damage and I failed to cut deeply in my attempts to slit my wrists or my throat. They even managed to find me a bed in the psych ward after only 18 hours in the ER. That’s unusual—often times people stay in emergency departments for days before a bed opens up. Or they get shuffled around to different psychiatric units, sometimes out of state.

It was past midnight by the time I finally was cleared by the night-shift psychiatrist and given a bed. The first person to talk to me was a boy who helped me get acclimated to the ward. He told me a bit about himself, how he dropped out of high school and couldn’t keep a job due to his illness. On his 21st birthday, which was my second day in the ward, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. He said that all he wanted was to go out to dinner with his mom and four brothers. Later in the week, I learned he was committed for attempting to murder his entire family.

The length of psychiatric stays varies; mine was just a week, on average with the majority of American cases, as the staff tries to get you on your feet and discharged immediately to make room for new patients. The first boy I met was only in the ward for two weeks. Another young man had been in the ward for four months, and I’m still not sure if he’s out.

In a sense, it’s easier to be inside the psychiatric ward than outside it. When searching for outpatient care, I was told that the hospital hadn’t been taking new patients in over two years. Through connections, my mother was able to find a few psychiatrists who were open to new patients, but none of them were within my health insurance plan. One charged $700 for an evaluation alone. Thankfully, I have family willing to pay for these services, but not everyone is able; over 50 percent of mentally ill Americans listed cost as a reason to not seek treatment.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 1 in 5 Americans suffers from mental illness in a given year—that’s 18.5 percent of the population, or 43.8 million people. Chances are you know someone suffering—but do you know that they’re suffering?

There is a huge stigma around mental illness and it directly affects whether people seek treatment. Whitesare the most likely to get treatment for mental illness, with Blacks and Latinos getting help at half the rate of Whites. According to the 2010 National Healthcare Disparities Report, Asians get even less help—clocking in at only 1/3 of the rate of Whites. But it’s not just treatment that’s affected by race; we see a difference even in the acknowledgement that people are struggling. As a general rule, people of color don’t talk about mental illness. We suffer silently.

Throughout high school, I struggled with self-harm, depression, and substance abuse. While college has been exponentially better, my latest episode could easily have been my last.

So when presidential candidates make a joke of mental illness on national television, I am pained. Here are two Democratic candidates whom I support and who claim they care about the accessibility of mental health care. Yet, Senator Sanders chose to equate mentally ill people—people like me—to the hatemongers of the Republican Party.

I don’t know which is worse: that Sanders thought this joke was in good-taste or that Secretary Clinton—and the entire audience in Flint, Mich.—laughed along with Sanders. Every day, Americans use mental illness as shorthand for bigotry, for stupidity, for violence. For sure, violence can be a part of some mental illness. But for those of us inside mental institutions hoping to get out, we are not given the luxury of being angry like Trump or bigoted like Cruz.

I am still raw after being released; cuts down my arms have not fully healed and I have bruises from the blood tests performed on me. I am processing the enormity of my actions and my illness, and what it means for those who survive my suicide attempt with me. I am angry with the politicians who see us as a joke, but I am not angry for myself alone.

I am angry for the young woman who came to the Boston hospital alone, because there is no in-patient psychiatric ward in Martha’s Vineyard.

I am angry for the elderly Latina woman who couldn’t communicate with any of the nursing staff at the hospital because there was no translator on the ward.

I am angry for the middle-aged woman whose doctor violated her rights as a patient.

I am angry for all of the lives derailed from reaching their true potential being turned into a cheap laugh for the viewers at home by those who cannot begin to understand our pain.

More than anything, I am haunted by the desperation of a boy who wants nothing more than to see his little brother, days after trying to kill him.

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10 thoughts on “Democrats and Mental Health

  1. I can’t imagine your pain. I have suffered from severe depression for most of my adult life. I was told it was “all in my head” (duh), that I was using my illness as an excuse for being a bitch and a crybaby. After the death of my son, I was truly on the brink of ending my life. I wanted to be with him more than I wanted to be here.

    People who do not understand this pain that you can’t always see think it’s “just an excuse”. I go through the ups and downs of my pain daily and have to make the decision to soldier on for the sake of my family. Most of the time, I’m glad I did because I have a lot to live for. But there are days when it’s just overwhelming.

    I can’t say I truly understand what you’ve gone through but I promise you this – you have my support and I will NEVER judge you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I relate to what you’re going through on my own personal level because we all experience life through our own perspective. I’ve been hospitalized many times too. I found your post, not through WordPress, but through Huffington, who has used it to politically bash Sen. Sanders which it does so well. I also have a WordPress blog on mental illness, so I’m not spamming you. My point is, if you want to educate a politician, especially Sen. Sanders, you can write to him personally. He is very receptive to all. The fact being that many people in society don’t seek out treatment because they don’t have the family to cover the costs nor know someone to pull the strings for them remains a reality that we with mental illness know all too well. His pointing out that the GOP needed mental health treatment was in regard to the fact that our entire society needs national health care.
    I truly wish you all the support you need and I hope our society gets a health care system that covers everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dorothy, thanks so much for reaching out and responding! Today has been quite an exercise in restraint with folks’ comments on the huffpost page. Appreciate your insight and hope you have a great day!

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      1. Elle,
        First and foremost I applaud you on your efforts to give people insight into what it is like to be mentally ill in America. I come from a similar place of dealing with major depression, self injury, and attempted suicide. When I originally read your article, I wanted to respond and let you know that while I agree with your attitude on the way in which mental illness is used in such a cavalier way, he did make it in the context of talking about how we need to increase funding for mental health.
        Then I read some of the comments in the quest to find out how I could comment not using facebook. I was appalled. Hopefully I will not be the first person to tell you this, but the woman who said that it was a “hit piece” and that you should be ashamed to call yourself a journalist before she proceeded to say that she thought that “being a conservative is a mental illness”, she has no idea what she was talking about. As someone who reads essays and books on politics, psychology, and other “dry” topics, I find your writing quite good. Furthermore, your response and handling of her disgusting comments was far better than I would have done. Ironically, she proved your point in said ridiculous comment.
        I wrote an article on the national response that comes after a violent tragedy, most notably mass shootings. If you’re interested in reading it, hopefully I’m not being too self indulgent to suggest such a thing, feel free to shoot me an email (I assume you can see it as the administrator of this page).
        Keep writing. Keep speaking out. People like us need voices like yours.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Did you mean for your article to be posted and edited by the huffpost? the original was better than the edit… But this is some pc crap. Yes, mental health is a serious issue. Certain words that stem from the study of mental health are used in our culture in a way that is not exactly accurate. But thats fucking SEMANTICS. if you can understand Bernie’s “joke”, can you also understand what a joke is? Saying that you hate any jokes, even if they talk about a sensitive subject for you, is anti-social. which is fine, theres nothing wrong with being anti-social. Everyone has those moments, especially myself. I am just trying to say that canonizing a joke as a reflection of some problem in our culture is misguided. Its a fucking joke. Bernie wants to take care of the mentally ill, its one of his main talking points. Trump and cruz talk about eachother, building walls, and good deals….I love you, don’t self harm. I hope my 25 cents isn’t offensive to you! Cheers to another beautiful day!

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    1. Hi Ian, thanks for your input! Yes I am aware that the HuffPost ran an edited version of this piece. The edits they made fell under a series of ethical guidelines re: talking about suicide. I understand that a number of folks are getting upset over the headline as Bernie Bashing, but my point was to raise the fact that Sanders, as a supporter of universal (mental) health care could’ve used his platform to really push for it and instead made (what I see as) a reductive joke. I like jokes! What I don’t like is using harmful jokes on such a national platform. But that’s just me.

      Have a great day and thanks for checking out the blog!

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    2. Ian I understand what you mean and if it was a everyday person, it wouldn’t be a big deal. The fact that he’s running for president means that even what he says in jokes is important. While the logic of using a politician’s joke as signs of cultural issues may be off, her point that it is an issue in our culture is spot on. Your response of “I love you, don’t self-harm” proves exactly the cultural problem and that you are unaware of what being mentally ill is like in this country. And that’s okay, but it does put you at a disadvantage that we should just deal with lawmakers, people who can have a large impact, talking about our illnesses in such cavalier fashion. I don’t find your comments offensive, just ignorant.
      Oh and as a PS, I’m voting for Bernie, his points on mental illness are a big reason why.

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